DENVER — The Broncos have a clear track to drafting Christian McCaffrey.
It’s just a matter of whether or not John Elway is willing to move into the passing lane for the second straight year.
The Broncos definitely are interested in picking the Stanford version of the Swiss Army Knife. He just drove off to Broncos headquarters for a meet-and-greet; the Broncos interviewed him at the NFL Combine when he was the most impressive running back, and they attended his Pro Day when he showed his receiving skills. And he did attend the same university as Elway, and there is not a hint of Christian, who is a devout Christian, ever stepping out of bounds on or off the field.
The Swiss Army Knife originally was developed in Switzerland, naturally, in 1991 as a multi-tooled pocketknife for soldiers. The terrific gadget features a screwdriver, a can opener, a reamer, a bottle opener, a wire-stripper and, yes, a knife.
McCaffrey doesn’t quite have that many versatile uses, but he’s close.
The Valor Christian High School graduate who was born and raised in the upscale Castle Pines area south of Denver is a running back, a (motion) H-back, a wide receiver, a slot receiver, a punt returner and a kick returner.
And, in high school and college, he occasionally play a wildcat quarterback in the shotgun formation.
Only one other player in the draft can serve that many, or more, purposes. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is a defensive back, linebacker, kick and punt returner, running back and wide receiver. In fact, The Wolverine lined up at 15 different positions during his collegiate career. Hard to believe. He didn’t play center or guard.
And Peppers could be available, too, to the Broncos.
A couple of latter-day Jim Thorpes (he could play everywhere, and did) are there for the choosing in the first round.
But the dilemma for each is: Can he play any one position at a Pro Bowl level. Peppers has been compared to former Heisman Trophy winner (over Peyton Manning) and future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson. McCaffrey has been characterized as another Reggie Bush (who won a tainted Heisman Trophy), although I liken him to a Darren Sproles, who has accumulated 19,020 all-purpose yards in 11 seasons with San Diego, New Orleans and Philadelphia.
Sproles is more like the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going.
If the Broncos could get Sproles-type or Woodson-like production and years out McCaffrey or Peppers, they’d be silly not to draft one or the other.
McCaffrey is the sexy, smart selection – and the hometown kid and son of the former popular Broncos’ receiver – Ed McCaffrey.
Peppers would provide depth immediately in the defensive backfield of an already loaded Broncos defense, and give them a high-octane returner. And he could step in at safety or cornerback in a couple of years when the Broncos lose an Aqib Talib or a T.J. Ward.
Problem is, both likely will be taken just before the Broncos pick 20th in the first round.
If the Broncos stay at 20, they’ll probably watch Peppers and McCaffrey go away in the teens (13-19) of the first round.
And here are the Broncos probable choices at that point: Offensive left tackle, in this order (mine) – Garett Bowles, Ryan Ramcyzk and Cam Robinson (more suited to right tackle or left guard); tight end – David Wjoku or, just possibly, O.J. Howard slips to here; guard Forrest Lamp, or an undisclosed player (perhaps a defensive end or tackle) that nobody is guessing.
The other way to go for the Broncos is to trade down and pick up another pick or two, and they could still acquire one of the left tackles.
The way the Broncos get McCaffrey or Peppers (and they didn’t interview him at the NFL Combine or offer him a visit to Dove Valley) is to trade up in the first round.
In The Elway Reign, the Broncos have traded both directions, getting Paxton Lynch and Derek Wolfe.
(The advantage to keeping a first-rounder is the fifth-year option for control.)
So, where do they go?
They make a deal with Arizona (which is where I’m writing this column) for the 13th pick. According to the NFL draft trade chart, the Broncos’ pick is worth 850 points, the Cardinals’ choice 1150. The Broncos could exchange positions and add their second round pick (worth 390 points) for 1240, and also receive the Cardinals’ fourth-or-fifth round pick.
Why the Cardinals? Because they’re not interested in McCaffrey. They seem to be honing in on quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Well, he’ll be there at 20 unless somebody goes berserko. But Washington, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and Philadelphia already have quarterbacks. The Cardinals are looking to replace Carson Palmer in a year or so.
Washington, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and Philadelphia indeed are interested in McCaffrey, or, possibly, Peppers. McCaffrey is high on the Eagles’ list, and Washington invited him in for a meeting. The Colts and the Bucs would dearly love to add another offensive addition, such as a McCaffrey.
So, if the Broncos jumped ahead of that crowd, they could grab McCaffrey, for sure. (The only other team in the top dozen that has given any thought to Christian is Carolina, and the Panthers probably can take Leonard Fournette at eighth.
Is Elway ready to gamble and give up a second? The Broncos really haven’t done well, or much at all, with second-rounders, and they actually do better with fourths, sixth and sevenths (Trevor Siemian, for example). They’ve reached too often with the No. 2 selection.
If the Broncos want McCaffrey, or even Peppers, the fast lane and the right track are open.